Google's penalties can be very daunting. Losing your good search engine placement along with your traffic and revenue can be devastating.
And it's not just Google's manual penalties that you need to be careful about. In addition to these, algorithm updates can also reduce your site's metrics.
That's why today we're going to explain in detail how these penalties work and how you can recover from them as quickly as possible.
Types of Google Penalties
As we mentioned earlier, Google's manual penalties and algorithm penalties (Algorithm Filters) are two completely different things, and each case requires different remediation approaches.
Get to know each one of them:
Google Manual Penalties
These penalties can affect your entire website or certain sections/pages. Most of these penalties come from over-optimizing or buying low-quality, low-budget links.
In fact, certain niches, such as pharmaceuticals and gaming, are so competitive that these toxic links are bought as part of “negative SEO attacks”. The launch of these usually occurs to force Google to manually penalize your competitor's website.
Negative SEO attacks are not as common in most niches as there is not that much money involved and the algorithms that govern these niches are not as punitive or easy to trigger.
Anyway, that's why you should only buy high quality links from proven professionals.
Manual penalties are not permanent, but it also means that Google won't return your #1 spot in SERPs just because you fixed the issue.
Instead, expect to slowly regain your rankings with solid SEO copys and careful link building.
Algorithmic penalties are, technically speaking, algorithmic devaluations, not actual penalties issued individually by Google.
The effect is certainly negative though, which is why they're often referred to that way.
Google releases updates to their algorithms and sometimes they can “downgrade” sites, meaning they can jump from Page 1 to Page 3 in SERPs overnight, thus severely limiting their visibility and traffic.
These can be particularly tricky to remedy because each update brings all sorts of changes that make it difficult to figure out why rankings change so dramatically.
It usually takes at least a few months after the SEOs are able to assemble a pattern that establishes what the algorithmic update sought to fix.
Here's an algorithmic update you might remember:
In 2018, a major update was released, commonly referred to as the “Google EAT Update”, as it focused heavily on its Quality Rater Guidelines. This update featured major ranking changes in various niches.
Google Penalties – Google EAT
Finance, wellness and health sites, as well as sites in the pharmaceutical industry, experienced the biggest changes at the time, and it was only a few months later that the SEOs realized what had happened.
It turns out that Google's Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (EAT) guidelines have been updated and their algorithms have changed to reflect this. Many sites failed to provide authoritative and trustworthy sources supported by experts in their fields and therefore lost their ranking accumulating penalties in the search engine.
Google understood that these sites could tremendously affect people's lives and that adding stricter quality controls was in their users' best interest.
Many others have seen their site jump from page 2 to the top spots on the SERPs. This is why it is imprecise to call them penalties (as people have certainly benefited from these changes in the past).
In a way, it's kind of like a lottery every time a big update comes out. The best you can do is adhere to strict content quality standards, and you should be safe.
How to Check Google Penalties
Finding out if your site has been punished manually (or punished by recent algorithm updates) requires two free tools:
- Google Search Console, and
- Google Analytics
After configuring the Google Search Console, go to the “Security and Manual Actions” menu.
Then click on "Manual Actions"
Any manual penalties Google may have imposed on your site will be listed there. Otherwise you should see this message.
Then go to the Google Analytics dashboard and double-check that your tracking code is working correctly.
Many business owners log into their dashboard, see that their numbers have dropped, and panic sets in thinking they've suffered some penalty.
However, an error in the Google Analytics data tracking script could be preventing everyone from seeing real traffic data.
Check organic traffic data in your Google Analytics report and double-check for drastic traffic drops to make sure there's a real problem with the data you're receiving.
Some tools also allow you to see if your rankings for any number of queries have all gone down and further confirm that something happened.
If you notice a drop in traffic despite not having manual penalties imposed on your domain, then you are probably experiencing an algorithm change that has negatively affected you.
If the dashboard and traffic data confirm that there is a manual penalty, here is what you should do in each case:
Stealth and/or unrelated URLs may cause penalties
You can use the “Search like Google” option in the old Search Console or use the URL inspector tool. Just paste in the URL that is experiencing these issues and take a look at the site Google is looking for, and compare it to the original to find out if there are any urls with penalties.
Remove any inconsistencies and check your site's redirects. Once the redirect issues are fixed, submit a reconsideration request to Google and wait for their response.
Free First Click Violation
This is another form of camouflage in Google's eyes, as you're showing Google the full version of a webpage, while users need to subscribe, log in, or register to see the same version Google saw.
The fix is pretty simple: edit what Google is able to see or remove your site's content restriction so that it complies with Google's “First Click Free” policy.
Keep in mind that Google isn't forcing you to give away premium content, just to be consistent!
Once done, submit a reconsideration request and wait for the response.
Pretty self-explanatory: if Google sees an image that's different from what your site's users see, then you're camouflaging images.
These penalties also occur when users have a redirect away from the image, or when that image is obscured by another image.
You can reverse these penalties manually by making sure the images displayed on Google are consistent with what your users are seeing.
Most of this behavior is quite intentional, but if it isn't, double-check that your WordPress plugins aren't hiding your images or creating weird redirects.
This can be a particularly unpleasant scenario. Website hacks are unfortunately a very common occurrence. WordPress and other CMS can be vulnerable in their default configuration, and creates all sorts of opportunities for malicious content and link injections.
Fixing this requires you to contact your hosting provider and have them quarantine your website.
Next, you'll want to identify and fix the vulnerability, clean up any content and links that were injected into your site, and ask Google to review it.
We suggest you follow Google's guide to this scenario here.
Hidden Text – You may suffer a penalty, run away from it
Keyword hidden text is a terrible “optimization” strategy, and can even earn a penalty.
Fortunately, the fix is quite simple:
Make sure your text color is completely different from your background, fix any repeating phrases. And finally, send Google a reconsideration to review the penalty if you did.
when you get involved in multiple spam situations, the fix is to clean up your site and never participate in those activities that no doubt cause penalties to a greater or lesser degree.
This is easily said, but when a site has engaged in these activities for so long, doing so would mean rethinking the entire approach (and purpose) of its marketing strategy.
We suggest that you take a look at SEO, through the other contents of the Agency Colors blog, to get a better idea of how you can achieve your business goals in a safer way.
Low quality free hosting
Free hosting is to be suspicious and is likely to bring you all sorts of problems, Google's manual penalty being one of them.
The correction? Switch your website to a paid hosting company. Hostgator and many other websites offer great prices, especially during Black Friday.
Hosting tons of bad content can cause all sorts of problems, as well as poorly written product reviews and plagiarized content. If Google notices a pattern, you'll receive a manual penalty.
The fix can be resource intensive: you build on each of these pages something that adds value to your visitors or simply get rid of them. Once done, submit a reconsideration.
User Generated Spam
Interacting with your site users through comments is highly encouraged, but comes with a serious drawback: Spammers can take advantage of your openness and goodwill, and abuse your communication channels.
Forum comments, guestbook pages, user profiles and article comments are all sources of spam. If not verified, they will earn a Google penalty.
The fix is to remove all these comments and profiles and implement strict anti spam rules.
Unnatural links to your site:
Buying links from Fiverr and other freelance platforms can be expensive. Make no mistake: blackhat SEO is alive and well, and can help your site rank faster than you thought possible. But you must buy them from proven professionals. If it doesn't, you risk getting a penalty.
Fortunately, these penalties are among the most common, so they're easy to take down.
Use the Google Search Console to get a complete list of your site's backlinks. Once corrected, submit a request for reconsideration.
Unnatural links from your site:
If Google finds you are selling links from your site, you will find yourself dealing with this penalty.
The correction? Start by removing links to sites that have no relevance. That is, remove or modify these links and submit a request for reconsideration.
Just keep in mind that Google won't overturn your penalty until all suspicious links have been dealt with. So don't expect to remove 2-3 links and assume this will go away. Google expects you to act willingly and abide by their rules, but they'll check again.
Google's manual penalties can have a tremendous negative effect on a site in the short and long term. Fortunately they are (for the most part) easy to handle. As a result, these manual Google penalties are becoming increasingly rare.
Google has invested considerable resources in its Artificial Intelligence systems and solutions in order to manage most of its daily disputes and penalty resolutions in other ways.
Still, there's no reason not to cover your tracks and keep your domain clean in case you decide to sell it in the future. A Google penalty drastically devalues your asset, and it's something you'd be smart to avoid.
Looking for help getting your site up to standard Google expects? With the Colors Agency, we guarantee much more than just an attractive look and a modern layout for your website. Our main focus is to offer companies around the world effective solutions to generate visibility on the internet.
Our agency develops SEO strategies and brand positioning for multinational companies, large, medium as well as small, all projects are important to us.